When I come into an album of arrangements or remixes, one of the first things I find myself doing is checking the track selection. Is it made up of tracks I’ve heard reworked many times before? What style are the arrangements set in? Prescription for Sleep, an album of sleepy but hardly soporific piano/saxophone arrangements by Norihiko Hibino and pianist AYAKI (collectively known as GENTLE LOVE), immediately catches the eye (and the ear, of course) with its chosen sources. These are all big names, and in some cases, big names that haven’t seen much love from other musicians. Suikoden, Demon’s Souls, and Super Mario 64 tracks are nestled alongside standbys like Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Cross, and NieR. In terms of track selection, Prescription for Sleep does not disappoint.
The arrangers have professed an interest in the therapeutics of music; how that ties into the arrangements is clear from even a cursory listen. This is “easy” music, music that aims to soothe, with the sax and piano parts easily molding around one another to create a much fuller sound than the concept might lead you to expect. While I’m not much for listening to music before sleep, Prescription does serve as an excellent way to frame a work or study session, the familiar melodies transformed into something entirely more relaxing. Each track is quite lengthy, a tactic which seems to give a sense of flow and progression. I imagined this as representing the listener moving from one stage of sleep to the next, and I think the music supports this.
While I’m least familiar with the source tune of “Dire Dire Docks” from Super Mario 64, it is handily my favorite track on the album. There’s a playfulness to the performance — it carefully executes a bouncy feeling without overstimulating. Certainly it eases the mind, but it’s catchy enough that I’ve found myself humming the main melody over and over again since my first few listens. Along with “Lifestream,” “Song of the Ancients,” and “Lost Painting,” it comprises a rather bubbly beginning to the album, though I do mean that relatively.
The middle tracks make up a much softer, middle-of-the-night component. “Maiden in Black” from Demon’s Souls is a fascinating and unexpected addition, given the relative dearth of arrangements culled from the Souls titles. While the general tone of the entire Demon’s Souls score is a sobering one, there’s a gentleness to “Maiden in Black” that makes it a good candidate for this album. The sparse, perhaps even quiet arrangement seems to recreate the mental state one might have upon waking in the middle of a quiet night. “Main Theme” from Suikoden and “Singing Emotion” from Chrono Cross continue this trend, gently carrying the album towards its final tracks.
“Auriel’s Ascension,” one of my favorite tracks from The Elder Scrolls IV (and, truthfully, one of the only tracks whose tune I can recall), is a gorgeous arrangement which captures all the nuance of the original while still holding true to the principles of this album. It flows easily into “Aquatic Ambiance” from Donkey Kong Country. Already a perennial favorite, GENTLE LOVE’s rendition has transformed it into something else entirely. The original’s tone was already well-suited to the aims of Prescription for Sleep, but the arrangement’s tinkling piano and incredible subtleness render it more dreamlike than ever, making the choice to include it as the final track seem like a smart one.
It’s difficult to write about this album; one runs the risk of veering into generalities, since the goal of the production was to create something with flow — something that stays out of the way and helps soothe you towards rest. But there’s a strength and consistency to how the original melodies have been preserved and represented on Prescription for Sleep which constantly compels me back towards it. I’ve got quite a selection of music to listen to on my work PC, and yet lately this is the only one I’ve had on repeat. That’s not necessarily the stated aim of the music here, so take that for what you will, but I have to imagine that there are few better ways to chill out than with this album.